AfricaCom 2017 – driving digital democracy in Africa


The 20th anniversary of Africa’s largest tech-focused event may have come and gone,
but beyond the record-breaking number of visitors, exhibitors and speakers and new
launches and cutting-edge products this year, the outcomes make for a lasting

AfricaCom was once focused solely on the telecommunications market, but now that
conversation has successfully shifted to embrace all things technology driven – the
backbone of our everyday and increasingly, future lives. While many of the discussions
at AfricaCom 2017 centred around connectivity – from the cost of data to the
deployment of satellite as a viable means of connecting the continent – Africa has
more pressing problems, that of digital inclusion, and just what this means and how
this digital-democracy can actually materialise.

Education was therefore a key buzzword at this year’s conference as well as a major
topic of conversation in the newly launched Technology Arena. “Connecting people is
one thing but teaching them how to make the most of that connectivity and the tools
to hand, is another thing entirely,’ shared Rekindle Learning’s Rapelang Rabana.

Future Horizon Technologies’ Raj Waniappa agreed, referring to the fact that Africans
needed to contribute to their own digital ecosystem not just consume what was on
offer, thus echoing a narrative that is beginning to resonate across the continent –
African solutions for African problems.

Africans are extremely resourceful and innovative as it happens – with the AfricaCom
20/20 showcase and the Innovation Stage providing an excellent glimpse into some of
the developments that the convergence of technology, media and telecommunications
can provide. Cape-based carpooling app, uGoMyWay (referred to by panel moderator
Desere Orrill of Ole! Media Group as the “Tinder for Mobility’) for instance, was
awarded the conference’s first AfricaCom 20/20 Innovation award.

Organisers of the conference and exhibition – Knect365 – successfully managed to
address both the B2B market and the B2C sector this year, separating the streams
into clearly demarcated areas, easy to understand and follow. In the main exhibition
hall, AfricaCom hosted the “engine drivers’ of innovation – the B2B components that
make the apps and technology products a reality. Here visitors were able to engage
with tower infrastructure providers, discuss connectivity issues and base station
solutions – such as Parallel Wireless’ unique solution that provides 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE
capabilities all in one housing that even communities can install and maintain
alongside the telco operators (for which they were awarded a prize at the 10th staging
of the AfricaCom Awards). Eugina Jordan, Vice President of marketing at Parallel
Wireless confirmed that the company would be back in 2018 with a bigger stand to
allow for the interest shown in their novel products and services.

Over in the new Technology Arena, the creators of content, apps and the technology
for end users, proudly displayed their wares to an engaged cross section of visitors.
Also housed in this new arena, the third staging of AHUB – where top entrepreneurs
meet potential investors and where those considering a career in technology (which
let’s face it all of us in the future), gain valuable insights into prospective revenue
generation opportunities.

All of this is driven by telecommunications and the telcos, handset manufacturers and
supporting services were more than adequately represented – with Huawei’s 10 Mate
a major talking point for the design conscious. For those looking into AI and VR,
AfricaCom presented some thought-provoking sessions with Dr Miriam Altman hosting
a practical and interactive virtual reality classroom, showing just where education
might go in the not too distant future.

Because this is in the main, a business show, AfricaCom would not be complete
without a number of other business negotiations taking place throughout the three
days. One such announcement was made by New Link (a division of the Bahrain-
based Hagbani Group) and the Hongdian Corporation who are co-operating on a
lucrative contract that will see a tailor-made technological control centre and call
centre system developed for a high-end global concierge service. For the first-time
visitor to AfricaCom, New Link are more than pleased with the co-operation
agreement they have struck with their new partners, fast-tracking a global business

Summing up AfricaCom 2017, Tom Cuthell, Portfolio Director of KNect365 said: “2017
was a major achievement for us as organisers – not only in celebrating two decades of
staging this event, but in the sheer breadth of content on offer, covering everything
from Blockchain and IoT to e-health and rural connectivity. It was a learning
experience that united the entire digital ecosystem.’

Dates for AfricaCom 2018 are 13 to 15 November. The event will once again be held
at the CTICC, Cape Town and interested parties looking to contribute towards “shaping
Africa’s digital future’ are invited to contact James Bull, Business Development
Director at KNect365 on

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Chanelle Ellaya
Chanelle Ellaya is the editor of Screen Africa. She completed her BA Journalism degree at the University of Johannesburg in 2011. While writing is her passion, she has a keen interest in the media in various capacities. Chanelle is an avid social media networker and a firm believer in the power of social and online networking. Between writing and tweeting, she finds time to feed her love for live music.